"Smile and Say Feta!"

Backpacking around Greece and its islands can involve sleeping on ferry ships’ decks, photographing black sand beaches and eating lots of feta cheese.

 

Here are some tid-bits I learned in Greece that I’d like to share with other travelers:

 A salad means tomato, cucumber, olives, and lots of feta. Do not expect lettuce.

If cheese could rule a country, feta would rein over the Greeks and they would subserviently comply.

 Left: Feta rules in Greece, cut the size of a deck of cards and tossed onto veggies.

 

Just because you buy an overnight ferry ticket, it doesn’t mean you have a SEAT on the boat.

Arriving at the ferry to Santorini just 5 minutes before departure seemed like perfect timing, until we realized everyone was camped out on the deck and laying on the couches in the cafe. After realizing we took would have to set up camp for the night, Katie, Jason and I found a bench under an awning and faded into and out of sleep among fog horn blows and announcements over the loud speaker. 

The blue and white paint combo is everywhere, just as you see on postcards.

My friend Katie, from high school, met me in Athens and did the island hopping with us. She said she read that the reason the homes are all blue and white is because when the Turkish people ruled, they did not allow the Greeks to fly their flag. This was the Greek way of expressing patriotism.

Above: Sifnos is known for its hand-made pottery and the blue and white paint on homes.

 

 Be prepared to share your food, since Greeks enjoy eating off one plate in the center of the table.

My friend Danae, a native Greek I met in college, let us know that we were now all part of her Greek family and that we could just share the plates by all digging in. Danae’s boyfriend Giannis did an excellent job of ordering the cuisine, from the Crete Salad to the last detail: yogurt with honey and pistachios. Then we all feasted family style.

 

 

That old marble in Athens really is slippery!

The marble stones beneath your feet are so old and polished that they are as slick as ice in some spots. Or maybe it was the worn-out flip flops I wore? Whatever the case, be careful! It’s impossible to finish off your trip by swimming in the Mediterranean if you have a cast over a broken bone.

Left: Ruins of the Acropolis in Athens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gyro and potatoes are to the Greeks what a hamburger and fries are to the Americans

Above: Super gyro!

Many beaches are picturesque, but the rocks make swimming difficult.

Left: Rocky Kastro Beach on Sifnos.

 Above: Katie and I hung onto our dock as the waves crashed over the rocks at Kastro Beach.

If you’re ever in need of extra attention, travel with a pack of girls.

Above: Vacationing with my girls: Danae from Greece and Katie from Chicago

Take a risk and climb Nea Kameni, off Santorini’s shore.

On this active volcanic island, warm air creeps through the earths surface through little vents in the earth. In some areas, you can smell the sulphur as you climb across the lunar landscape. Visit this site in the morning because the sun’s reflection on these black rocks is hot!

Above: Hiking the volcano

 

When staying in Santorini’s famous Oia area, be sure your hotel has a pool.

As you can see in the photo below, there is no beach access from these picturesque hotels on the cliff! The view is breathtaking from the bright pools that are set into the stones.

Above: Santorini’s city of Oia.

My Big Fat Greek Adventure

First Impressions – Athens

Erin, Katie and I spent the first day seeing the sights and we hiked up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, which unfortunately was under construction. The view over Athens was beautiful and we read from our guide book to get a better understanding of the historic events that took place here. The heat was overbearing so afterwards we went to a local grocer and stocked up on peaches, apricots, olives, cheese and wine and went to the National Park for a picnic in the shade. In the park was a creepy guy looking at the girls and playing with himself, which we had heard about from friends before arriving in Greece and it came true for us. I gave him the “you’d better cut that out” look but it seemed to only work when I was looking at him. Eventually we left and showered before going out. For dinner we went to the Thissios neighborhood where the girls each had a greek salad and I had moussaka, the greek version of shepherd’s pie, a base layer of meat topped with mashed potatoes, veggies and cheese. In my eyes, the salad’s were great as they only had two pieces of lettuce each with the rest being the goodies, feta, olives, tomatoes, onions and capers, but the girls were overwhelmed with the giant slices of feta. The next morning we had to leave early to catch our ferry to the island of Sifnos where we would be meeting with friends Danae and Gianni.

As we are checking out we wanted to place our bags in storage so we didn’t have to carry so much to the island. He tried to rip us off by charging us and we called him out on it by reading to him what the hostel’s website had said. He didn’t much like being questioned and we proceeded to have an adult conversation about each other’s mothers. Not pretty and definitely not the best introduction to Athens. Walking to the port, we noticed the city is covered in graffiti from head to toe and decided we weren’t the biggest fans of this city. We were certain the islands would change our perception of Greece overall.

Sifnos

We checked into Sifnos hotel which we had booked several weeks ago as the islands fill up during the peak months of summer. Deciding to cut costs by sharing a single room, we unloaded our bags, put on our bathing suits and made our way to the closest town by the sea, Kastro. The sea was rough but the cool sea air felt great. The architecture of the island is beautiful. 99% of the houses are painted stark white with blue shutters and adorn the rocky hillsides overlooking the sea. After a few hours we head back to town to track down Gianni and Danae. After finding them, we go to a local haunt for some Gyros, pitas stuffed with pork, tomatoes, onions and a yogurt sauce. I also have an order of Souvlaki which is basically any meat grilled on a stick. The five of us went to a lounge for a cocktail and catch up on the latest since our last meeting in San Francisco. Gianni and I went to the store and picked up a bottle of rum and some mixers to take back to their terrace where we proceed to play drinking games including “ooh-ah and oinka,” which Danae absolutely loves.

We meet the next morning and go the main cafe in town for breakfast. Afterwards, we hop in Gianni’s car for a ride to the best beach on the island, Platis Yialos. Paddle ball must be the official sport of the Mediterranean as the beach is packed with players and Gianni and I spend most of the day playing while the girls chat. The water is deep blue and at a perfect temperature so I took a long swim in the afternoon. Watermelon curbed our appetites for lunch and we laughed the day away in the sun. A few hours later, we met again to drive to Kastro where we found a nice restaurant overlooking the small village. Letting Gianni and Danae showcase Greece’s culinary delights, they ordered us a dinner for kings, mezze-style. We started with a Crete Salad, essentially a greek salad placed over a toasted brick of savory biscotti-like bread. Next we had fresh octopus drizzled with olive oil, oregano, and black peppercorn as well as a garbanzo bean mash with red onion and olive oil. Baked cheese and shrimp in a feta and tomato sauce followed and for dessert they brought us complimentary greek yogurt with crushed pistachios and drizzled honey. All of this was accompanied with the house white wine and cost each of us about $16. I absolutely love the local flavor. We retreated back to the terrace for a night cap before turning in.

The next day, we tried another beach but didn’t like it so returned to Platis Yialos for another fun-filled day. For dinner we ordered take-out from the gyro spot and feasted on the terrace. We bid Gianni and Danae farewell and boarded our overnight ferry to Santorini.

Santorini

We hadn’t realized that the ticket purchased was basically general admission and ended up sleeping on a bench on the deck like a ragtag band of gypsies. By sunrise we had arrived in Santorini and after the long night, none of us were in the best of spirits. Our hostel was supposed to pick us up but didn’t show so we hopped a ride only to find out the front desk was closed when we arrived. Pulling up lounge chairs near the pool we nap for an hour before getting a second wind and beginning the day. By 9 am we were on a bus tour to nearby volcanoes and a swim in the thermal hot springs nearby and spent the remainder of the day passed out on Perissa beach, a black sand beach near our hostel. We rent two motorbikes and hightail it to Red Beach for a picturesque sunset and then to Delfina, a seaside restaurant where we order mezze-style again.

The next day we rode our bikes about an hour north to the postcard town of Oia (ee-ah.) Unable to walk more than three steps without a perfect picture opportunity we all walk around snapping photos. Spending the better part of the day here, we browse the shops and enjoy the seaviews. On our return home we stopped at a Mexican restaurant perched atop the cliffs. Getting lost after that, we climbed the highest peak on Santorini for a spectacular panoramic view before returning to Perissa. Katie rode with me as she had never driven a motorbike and in typical fashion we ran out of gas but she horsepowered us back to the hotel flinstone-style. We missed our bus to the port and had to hire a ridiculously expensive taxi. Picking up some dangerous looking house wine in expectation of another night on the deck, we fortunately secured some nice leather recliners on the ferry back to Athens and dreamt of our 5-day adventure on the greek islands.

Back in Athens, we did some souvenir shopping and got everything in order for the next leg of our trip. Katie left us and then it was two. A big thanks to Katie for coming all the way from Chicago to see us in Greece and also to Gianni and Danae for showing us a great time in Sifnos! Erin and I are making a pit stop in Cologne, Germany and then off to the Netherlands for a much needed 10-day trip with my family.